TST friend--and arguably the top dog of hockey blogging (despite what USA Hockey may say) Greg Wyshynski has been running a series asking famous folks the five things they'd change about the NHL. Washington Cap and all around good guy Matt Bradley was the latest.
Here's our list...
1) Every team plays in every city every year. A common gripe, but until it's addressed it's a valid one. Sure there are reasons not to do this like the high price of fuel and travel costs and the unfair reality of putting more miles on some of the Western Conference teams that are spread out. But the reality is all fans deserve to see guys like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Jarome Iginla and the defending Stanley Cup Champion come to their city at least once. They play 82 games in a season, that's 41 games for season ticket holders. Division rivalries are great and all, but no one wants to see Coyotes/Stars or Panthers/Hurricanes eight times a year.
2) Eliminate the instigator rule. Players have been rallying around this for years. Hockey is the only major sport that has fighting, and whether you debate the necessity of that or not, there is an unwritten code. Cross the line and you have to answer the bell, either in that game or a following one. The instigator rule punishes those that enforce the code. Certainly at all times the referees should have the ability to assess major misconduct penalties to not let things get out of hand, but allow the players to police themselves. Assholes like Sean Avery are only emboldened when they can get away with anything because coaches and players can't make necessary moves to combat them.
3) Divisional playoff series. This will never happen because it is too complicated---unless the conferences were paired from three to two divisions, which would be difficult with the current 15 team layout. Still, rivalries are created in the post-season with teams battling against each other every other day for about two weeks with their livlihoods on the line. That's what generates heat.
4) Regulate goalie pads. This is starting to happen, albeit slowly. Goalies don't even look like hockey players anymore as much as they are Stay-Puft Marshmellow men. When they go down to a butterfly they take away well more than the six feet of net. Give them enough pads for protection that are necessary but hone down the excess and the J.S. Giguere and Garth Snow trapezoid chest protectors. It's scoring chances, not necessarily goals that create scoring chances, but give shooters more net to shoot at will benefit the game.
5) Three no-trade clauses per team. Player movement in the NHL is always frantic but it's estimated that about 120 out of the 700 players have some sort of no-trade/no-movement clause that bogs them down. Teams hand out these things like free candy. Established players deserve loyality, but it shouldn't have to be legally binding. Look at a team like Toronto that wants to rebuild but has been handcuffed by decisions to give many veterans these passes. And not to say it makes them lazy (they still are professional athletes) but the security of these clauses makes them untouchable. Limit franchises to only slap these on the select few players that deserve them.
6) Get the NHL back on ESPN. Nothing against Versus, a network that has come a long ways. But being on ESPN is being back on the radar of sports fans. The NHL has so many great players, especially ones that are young, that it is a shame they are not getting spotlighted. With more exposure going to the NFL, the MLB and the NBA, hockey is fading. Even with Winter Classics and NBC action and a little more attention the NHL is on par with Indy Racing, Arena Football and even poker in terms of recognition. Which is a shame. Get back to the "world wide leader" and give them the self-promotional reason those bastards need to hype the wonderful action. It's not ideal, but it's necessary.
Overall, we still think hockey is the greatest sport in the world. It's high impact, high intensity and a beautiful display of size, speed and skill. The shootout has largely worked, the Winter Classics give a unique celebration of the roots of the sport and the Stanley Cup is, bar none, the most prized, famous and greatest trophy in all of the world.
But there's always room for improvements, however unlikely the implementation of these ideas are.